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The Independent Critic

STARRING
Kevin James, Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Adam Sandler (Vocals), Sylvester Stallone (Vocals), Cher (Vocals), Judd Apatow (Vocals), Jon Favreau (Vocals)
DIRECTED BY
Frank Coraci
SCREENPLAY
David Ronn, Jay Scherick, Kevin James, Nick Bakay, Rock Reuben
MPAA RATING
Rated PG
RUNNING TIME
104 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Columbia Pictures
DVD EXTRAS
  • Laughing is Contagious
    - Blooper Reel
  • Bernie the Gorilla
  • The Furry Co-Stars
  • Creating the Visual Effects
    - The Animals
 "Zookeeper" Review 
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It's really difficult to hate a Kevin James film. There's just something about the guy that you can't help but love. Even when he's not being particularly funny, you sit there in eager anticipation with a smile on your face knowing that his next time for being funny is right around the corner.

There are a lot of times in Zookeeper, James's latest "ordinary joe" makes a difference in the world and gets the girl film, that Kevin James simply isn't funny. Yet, the film is so genuinely good-hearted and upbeat that you simply can't help but think to yourself "Sure, it could have been a lot better but it wasn't bad."

"Wasn't bad" isn't much of an endorsement, but even by the modest standards set by his last comedy, Paul Blart: Mall Cop, Zookeeper falls considerably short in both laughs and heart.

James is Griffin, a socially awkward zookeeper at the Franklin Park Zoo, an urban setting zoo that may very well be less safe than zoos in third-world countries. He works alongside Kate (Rosario Dawson), a fellow zookeeper who is in charge of opening the zoo's eagle habitat and who is weighing an employment offer from a zoo in Nairobi.

Despite being loved at the zoo and obviously terrific with the animals, Griffin has never really entertained outside offers because he is, of course, painfully shy and woefully insecure. Somehow, he landed a hottie girlfriend (Leslie Bibb) who, as we learn in the film's opening scene, declined his well orchestrated marriage proposal because he was, well, a zookeeper.

If you don't see where the film's going by now, you're simply not paying attention.

Oh, but I should mention that the animals at Franklin Park Zoo adore Griffin and and they're not about to give him up without a fight when he starts contemplating a career change in order to win back Stephanie, the hottie ex-girlfriend who'd dumped him five years prior. So, the animals take to coaching Griffin on life and love manning up.

Yes, the animals talk. Surprisingly, it's not the most irritating part of the film.

Bernie the Gorilla (Nick Nolte), Donald the Monkey (Adam Sandler), Janet the Lioness (Cher), Mollie the Giraffe (Maya Rudolph) and Joe the Lion (Sylvester Stallone) are among the animals who decide to come to Griffin's aid while also breaking the "code" that forbids ever revealing their ability to talk to humans. Griffin has proven himself trustworthy, and these animals do what they can to return the favor.

There are times, despite the tired and predictable premise, that it all works far better than one might expect. There's a terrific scene involving Griffin, the reclusive Bernie the Gorilla and T.G.I.Friday's that is silly but sweet and quite funny. Still, the film never works on the level of Eddie Murphy's Dr. Dolittle (not exactly a lofty goal) and it nearly plummets to the level of Brendan Fraser's godawful Furry Vengeance.

Then, again, we go back to the inherent likability of Kevin James and the nearly equal charisma and presence of Rosario Dawson, who consistently elevates nearly every film she's in. There's one scene in Zookeeper that rises above the rest, a scene that gives a strong indicator of just how good this film could have been had its pool of writers aimed a bit higher and Frank Coraci not been at the helm. Griffin has asked Kate to be his "date" at a party where his ex-girlfriend will be present with her new boytoy (Joe Rogan). This scene simply clicks. It has heart, humor, fantastic physical comedy and that wonderful Kevin James blend of humility and faux machismo that we all love. In this scene, Griffin and Kate click so beautifully, however, that any future interest in the self-centered, materialistic and obviously shallow Stephanie not only seems pointless but unbelievable.

Zookeeper isn't an awful film, and smaller children will likely love it. However, with the exception of Rosario Dawson there's no one here bringing their A-game and even much of the vocal work, excluding Sandler's goofy take on a capuchin monkey, feels tired and uninspired despite the all-star cast. It is a touch refreshing to have animals, including Sebastian the Wolf (Bas Rutten), who feel remarkably human. It's just a pity that they couldn't have been more interesting.

Oh, and like every other comedy of the last few years we even get a Ken Jeong appearance. Seriously dude, take a valium and skip a film. It's getting old. Zookeeper may also include one of the worst musical montages in recent cinematic history, unless you have an insatiable appetite for 70's classic rock and anti-climactic movie endings that make about as much sense as raining frogs.

Kirk Petruccelli's production design does a nice job of creating a sort of neighborhood zoo feeling, though a tremendous suspension of belief is required given how unsafe this zoo would be in real life and how freakishly accessible these animals would be to the public. D.P. Michael Barrett's camera work disappoints, too often losing track of the action and/or framing shots in such a way that they feel cut off or incomplete. Even Rupert Gregson-Williams' original score contributes, at times, to the film's lack of energy.

Thankfully a 2-D alternative amongst a sea of 3-D features, Zookeeper likely contains enough humor to be a decent outing for most families with smaller kids. With its PG-rating, Zookeeper is a relatively safe and modestly funny film with two likable performances from Kevin James and Rosario Dawson and enough smiles to hold the kids over until Harry Potter comes to town.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic

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